From local businessmen and women done good to entire Middle Eastern states, there is a little something for everyone in modern day football club ownership. The size and prestige of the club will be determined by the individual’s (or consortium’s) budget and pulling power – and that’s before they have even passed the fit and proper persons’ test… more on that later. So, can anybody own a football club? How much does it cost? And, do football club owners actually make any money?
How to Buy a Football Club
In theory, anyone can buy a football club in the UK if they can prove they have the necessary financing and capital to do so. But before any such takeover deal is signed off upon, the prospective new owner must pass the Owners’ and Directors’ Test (OADT) – also known as the fit and proper persons’ test.
The OADT seeks to determine whether an individual can legally take on a position of power within a football club – they may be disqualified from being an owner if they have faced disciplinary charges in a previous role within football, or if they have specific criminal convictions. Those include breaches of the Dishonesty Act, corruption, perverting the course of justice and any crime that is punishable with a prison sentence of 12 months or more.
In 2023, a series of changes were ratified. Now, any ownership bid accepted by the Premier League panel must now be reviewed by the Independent Oversight Panel – perhaps in a bid to prevent whole national states owning British clubs, such as Abu Dhabi’s ownership of Manchester City and Newcastle United’s effective takeover by the Saudi Arabian aristocracy.
Meanwhile, the threshold at which an individual owner is said to exert control over a club has been reduced to a 25% shareholding from 30% – that still ensures they have considerable voting power. Of course, you can effectively own a football club outright with 51% of shares, but you don’t need 100% in order to be considered an owner. If you have provable finance in place and pass the OADT, you are free to complete your buyout of a football club – although you’ll want to do the necessary due diligence checks before putting pen to paper.
How Much Does It Cost to Buy a Football Club?
You can, as a general rule, compare buying a football club to shopping for a new car: the more money you have at your disposal, the better the vehicle that you can afford. For example, Manchester United – one of the most recognisable football ‘brands’ on the planet, and therefore one of the most commercially successful – has a market valuation of £6 billion, which a handful of buyers were willing to pay as part of the club’s lengthy takeover process.
When Roma Abramovich sold Chelsea in 2022, that was more of a fire sale – the Russian had to sell up due to the sanctions placed upon him after his homeland invaded Ukraine. Even so, it still cost Todd Boehly £4.25 billion to take control of the Blues.
The further you go down British football’s pyramid, the cheaper it becomes to buy a club. Hollywood titans, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny, paid a reported £2 million for Wrexham, while clubs in parlous financial states are more likely to be snapped up on the cheap. Famous clubs like Hull City and Notts County have been acquired for as little as £1 – of course, the new owner has also had to take on the multi-million debts, too.
Can You Own More Than One Football Club?
If the emotional highs and lows of owning one football club is enough, it is feasible – albeit when certain conditions are met – to own two or more. This is often a strategic ploy. The City Football Group has a large handful of clubs dotted around the world, enhancing the support of the main club – Manchester City – while creating a pathway for talented players to work their way up the network’s ladder. Red Bull have achieved something similar with their ownership of Leipzig and Salzburg.
It’s impossible for an owner to have a controlling stake in two English clubs – that creates a conflict of interest that could impact the competitive integrity of the divisions those sides play in. There are no rules preventing an owner from controlling two or more clubs in different countries, although a potential difficulty is if they both qualify for the same continental competition – UEFA prohibits two teams where one has a ‘decisive influence’ over the other, i.e. through shared ownership.
However, if the owner can display that the two teams are not under ‘common control’, e.g. if their decision-making board members are unique and separate, then the general rule can be lifted – that explains how RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg are allowed to play in the Champions League at the same time.
Do Football Club Owners Make Money?
Here is the million dollar question: do the owners of football clubs actually get to take home a profit? The answer is, well, maybe. If they take on a salaried role such as that of chairman or managing director, they can effectively pay themselves whatever they want to. Otherwise, they are reliant on the auspices of shareholding – i.e. will a dividend be paid, and how much – to ultimately decide whether they make an annual profit on their investment or not.
The difficulty is that many football clubs are actually run at a loss – Chelsea, for example, spent nearly £1 billion on transfers between the summers of 2022 and 2023, yet they didn’t make anything like that figure in commercial revenue. To be competitive in the Premier League these days, clubs simply cannot be run like sensible businesses.
Given that Boehly and his venture capital partners spent £4.25 billion buying the club, it seems almost impossible that they will take any sort of profit out of Chelsea in the near future. So, what’s the point in acquiring a club in the first place?
From a ‘saviour’ wanting to help their local club to an egomaniac wanting a slice of a globally-renowned sports team, the reasons are myriad. But one thing that any football club owner knows and accepts is that, unless they are in a salaried position, it’s highly doubtful that they will turn their ownership into cash profit.